Published On: Thu, Mar 21st, 2019

Witch hunt or a new Marcel Loor case?

Courthouse 20180704

PHILIPSBURG — Witch hunt or a repeat of the Marcel Loor case? The public prosecutor’s office demanded on Wednesday 18 months of imprisonment, with 6 months suspended against former Immigration and Border Protection (IBP) director Udo Aron and a 6-month suspended prison sentence and 240 hours of community service against his policy advisor Erling Hoeve. The prosecution also demanded a 5-year ban from working in the civil service. The court will present its ruling on April 10.

Aron and Hoeve are accused of human smuggling, forgery, and abuse of office. Aron’s charges also include the possession of two air guns. The meat of the matter however revolves around the use of so-called DTAEs  (Decision to Allow Entry). With these DTAEs Aron and Hoeve created  a visa and admittance system outside of the law according to the prosecution.

The DTAE resembles the re-entry permits former head of immigration Marcel Loor and Chief Commissioner of Police Derrick Holiday used more than ten years ago. These permits were created by Loor to ‘formalize’ a practice of phone calls and ad hoc decisions about allowing people to enter the country. The court found these permits at the time illegal and therefore forgeries; a similar fate now awaits the DTAEs Aron and Hoeve allegedly used.

The so-called Robalo case against Aron and Hoeve began after former Justice Minister Edson Kirindongo filed a request to investigate possible criminal offenses within IBP in 2016. Aron, upon return from a visa conference in the Dominican Republic, had allowed a woman to enter St. Maarten without having her passport stamped and to bypass immigration clearance.

After complaints from immigration officers who were asked to look the other way, Aron, who started his tenure as IBP-director on October 1, 2011, was suspended on June 22, 2016, dismissed on August 10 of that year and finally terminated on October 1, 2016.

In his complaint to the prosecutor’s office, Minister Kirindongo stated that Aron had allowed persons to enter without a visa and of signing documents on his behalf without authorization. The investigation by the National Detective Agency (Landsrecherche) soon also implicated Aron’s policy advisor Erling Hoeve.

Aron has always maintained that he had the mandate to do what he did. But the prosecution argued that, though Aron was indeed authorized to grant temporary or permanent residence permits, he was not allowed to waive any requirements, such as visa requirements.

The investigation showed that the IBP-director kept the practice of using DTAEs hidden from Minister Kirindongo.

The attorneys for Aron and Hoeve, Shaira Bommel and Brenda Brooks, both said in defense of their clients that former Minister of Justice Roland Duncan had already approved the use of DTAEs and that these documents were formerly known as ‘permission to allow entry’ – the illegal re-entry permits that led to the fall of Marcel Loor and Derrick Holiday.

Attorney Brenda Brooks issued an elaborate press release saying that the prosecution’s charges against her client Erling Hoeve lack “the required evidence to support the allegations.” In court she described the actions of the prosecution against her client as “a witch hunt.”

Brooks also expressed her irritation about the attitude of the public prosecutor while she was making the case for her client to the court. “Blatant disrespect for our judicial process” and “an attitude of disrespect” were among the terms Brooks used in a reaction to “openly displayed giggles” from the bench.

Brooks also published the statement her client made at the end of the hearing. It reads as follows: “I stand here today, filled with mixed emotions. Foremost I am at peace, confident, and relieved that my innocence is no longer secret … We struggle to reach understanding why ethically doing your job results in one being locked up, socially chastised, and tarnished publicly. My journey building a reputable career Justice has been under attack. It feels as if have been penalized in so many ways, even before this fair trial. Just Google my name and this negative allegation pops up. I am unable to curate any credible relationship with financial institutions – and still today forced to pay for my Master’s Degree out of pocket. I cannot even secure life insurance, as I am being labeled a politically exposed person due to the high profile of this case, is cause for denial. Now ask yourself if you were in this situation running the risk that something could potentially happen to you, how comfortable can you be knowing that you have nothing in place to secure your son and his mother’s future?

The public prosecutor used the opportunity to criticize the government of St. Maarten for failing to take action against civil servants with a criminal conviction. It was reason for the prosecutor to demand that the court orders the removal of Aron (who has already been terminated) and Hoeve from the civil service for a period of five years.’

Known examples of convicted civil servants that are still holding a government job are former airport and tourist bureau director Regina Labega (sentenced for embezzlement and forgery to a conditional 12-month prison term and a 300,000 guilders fine), former policeman Jerry-Lee Valentino Gerardus (sentenced to 3 years for corruption) and the head of infrastructure management Claudius Buncamper (sentenced for tax fraud).

Labega now works as a policy advisor at the ministry of tourism and economic affairs and Gerardus works at the cabinet of Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin.

With its demand for a ban from the civil service, the prosecutor says that it wants to contribute to “an honorable government of St. Maarten.”

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Related articles:
Attorney Brenda Brooks on the Robalo case
Public Prosecutor’s Office issue statement on ROBALO case
Opinion: “Déjà vu